This Week in World Religion 2018–08–26
“Can novels where bodices rip and manhoods throb be considered sacred?
The creator of a new podcast says the answer is an emphatic, “Yes! Oh, yes!”
“For something to be sacred, the way we think about it, it has to teach you to be better at loving,” said Vanessa Zoltan, the 36-year-old who created the podcast, which will be called — ahem — “Hot and Bothered.””
“WHEN this weekend’s visit to Ireland by Pope Francis is over, people around the world will have picked up some confusing messages about a land long revered as a cradle of saints and religious scholars. On one hand, the Irish republic is much less Catholic than it was in 1979 when a previous pontiff, John Paul II, toured the island and electrified its people. On the other, the Catholic faith retains a large residual strength. For better or worse, the Catholic faith or memories of the faith still influence those who are outside its ranks.
As we write in the Charlemagne column this week, the share of Irish people who say they attend mass regularly has fallen to barely three in ten from eight in ten a few decades ago. But this still makes Ireland one of the more devout nations in Europe. Among Irish citizens aged between 16 and 29, nearly 40% say they have no religion. But then 91% of Czechs, 75% of Swedes and 70% of Brits in that age bracket deny any religious affiliation. And a remarkably high 31% of young Irish people say they pray at least once a week. Even if some are fibbing, it is telling that they choose to make that claim.
So where exactly does Ireland stand on the spectrum between Catholic and post-Catholic?
“Clay Routledge, author of the new book, “Supernatural: Death, Meaning, and the Power of the Invisible World,” was watching his university’s football team play a national championship on television. There were about 20 other friends in the room when a girl of 9 or 10 twirled in. She pointed out that just because their team was ahead didn’t mean they still couldn’t lose.
At which point one of the men told the girl to leave and if she came back she would jinx the game.
“Hey, take it easy!” “She’s just a kid!” “Don’t be a jerk!”
Sorry — none of the adults said any of that. They just kept watching the television, as if this guy had not just said something both mean and, well, crazy. How could a girl twirling in or out of a room possibly affect the outcome of a football game?”
“ Today, Aug. 25, marks another significant day in the calendar of the Christian Church.
Almost 1,700 years ago, in 325 AD, as the ecumenical council at Nicaea concluded, they adopted the Nicene Creed, establishing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Regrettably, this core Christian belief is more a formula to bless ourselves than a lifestyle to imitate. As Karl Rahner suggested, if the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was dropped, the day-to-day lives of Christians would remain largely unchanged, since they behave as “monotheist.”
What would prompt a well-respected Catholic theologian to draw that conclusion? I am sure there are a variety of explanations, but as I understand Rahner, one of the principle reasons is our failure to truly imitate the hospitality and unconditional love that animates the inner life of the Trinity. What I mean by this observation is visually explained by Andrei Rublev in his icon, The Trinity. If you haven’t seen this icon, find one and use it for a guided visual meditation. Your understanding of the Trinity will be forever changed. And, more importantly, you will discover what is expected of those who profess their faith in the Trinity.
As expected, Rublev’s icon depicts the three persons of the Trinity: God the Father on the left, Jesus in the centre, and the Holy Spirit on the right. They look alike, there is a feminine quality to them, and the circular motion created by the way they are seated around the table represents the endless love that flows between them. Their distinctiveness is found in subtle differences, such as the colours of their garments, the way the fingers are held, and how Jesus and the Spirit look toward the Father. There is a great deal more I could say about this sacred image, but there are two critical aspects of this icon that really teaches us about the Trinity. The first is that the right hand of the Spirit is pointing toward an empty space at the front to the table. Secondly, in the space where the Spirit is pointing, there appears to be a little rectangular square. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe this is actually remnants of glue that once held a mirror. In other words, Rublev intended for all those who look at his icon that they will see themselves sitting at the table with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is remarkable when you think about it. We are offered a seat at the table. This privilege, however, carries with it a challenge. If we are in communion with the three persons of the Trinity, then it would seem we are expected to imitate them by leaving an empty space at our table?”
“The recent visit of Pope Francis to Ireland, following so soon after the discovery of yet more horrific crimes committed by Catholic clergy against children, prompts reflection the thorny relation between religion and science. How should a scientist react to the pope’s visit?
One answer is that scientists’ views of organised religion are as diverse as those of any other section of the population. While some well-known scientists take a decidedly critical view of the great religions of the world, others profess deeply held beliefs. Indeed, I have often heard prominent scientists describe how they reconcile profound religious faith with their science at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at the University of Cambridge. That said, I don’t always find such presentations convincing — my own view is that science and religion make strange bedfellows.
One obvious clash is the central issue of faith — the manner in which almost all religions assume the existence of a supernatural deity in the absence of any supporting evidence. Such a belief system may arise from an instinctive human need to believe in something larger than ourselves, but it is in marked contrast with the practice of modern science, where everything we assume about the world is based upon thousands of observations.”